Bar Codes: Y2K Redux? - Page 3

If anything, this drill is a warm-up for a move to a 14-digit bar code pushed by the UCC. These codes, called Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs), are designed to help unify a global supply chain, according to Pam Stegeman, vice president of supply chain technology at the Grocery Manufacturers of America.

GTINs contain enough information to identify products and manufacturers for 100 times as many products as the 12-digit UPC, making a unified global tagging system much more practical.

A 14th digit also means many companies can use the same codes for dealing with outsiders that they now use internally. Many companies already have more detailed codes in their own databases, and must map the shorter codes to them. They may use extra digits to express such factors as size of shipment-whether its a pallet, case or box, for instance.

Best Buy is holding off for now on using the global item numbers. But it is expanding its fields to 14 digits, for when such numbers are widely used.

But some companies dont see the need for 14-digit bar codes yet. The UCC is already pushing a different mini-code in a format called Reduced Space Symbology (RSS) that also uses 14 digits. RSS tags, which are about a quarter the size of an average bar code, are designed for items as small as a ring or a single cherry, but many retailers are resisting the expense involved in an upgrade.

These companies are instead waiting for those codes to be merged into the specifications for radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. RFID is maturing rapidly, but many companies do not consider it reliable enough for adoption. The technology is considered the next big thing in product tagging, however, and is being promoted by several major businesses, including the worlds largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores.

How You Can
Figure out if your scanners and point-of-sale systems can handle 13 digits; most can.
Look for keywords in code like "UPC"; calculate how many fields cant handle 13 digits.
Put in 14 digits for the same price as 13, so you wont have to fix things again later.
Dont lose track of inventory, cash or sales once you go live.